Health Guide

Cytology exam of urine


A cytology exam of urine is a test used to detect cancer and other diseases of the urinary tract.

Alternative Names

Urine cytology; Bladder cancer - cytology; Urethral cancer - cytology; Renal cancer - cytology

How the Test is Performed

Most of the time, the sample is collected as a clean catch urine sample in your doctor's office or at home. This is done by urinating into a special container. The clean-catch method is used to prevent germs from the penis or vagina from getting into a urine sample. To collect your urine, you may get a special clean-catch kit from your health care provider that contains a cleansing solution and sterile wipes. Follow instructions exactly.

The urine sample can also be collected during cystoscopy. During this procedure, your provider uses a thin, tube-like instrument with a camera on the end to examine the inside of your bladder.

The urine sample is sent to a lab and examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.

How to Prepare for the Test

No special preparation is needed.

How the Test will Feel

There is no discomfort with a clean catch urine specimen. During cystoscopy, there may be slight discomfort when the scope is passed through the urethra into the bladder.

Why the Test is Performed

The test is done to detect cancer of the urinary tract. It is often done when blood is seen in the urine.

It is also useful for monitoring people who have a history of urinary tract cancer. The test may sometimes be ordered for people who are at high risk for bladder cancer.

This test can also detect cytomegalovirus and other viral diseases.

Normal Results

The urine shows normal cells.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal cells in the urine may be a sign of inflammation of the urinary tract or cancer of the kidney, ureters, bladder, or urethra.

Be aware that cancer or inflammatory disease cannot be diagnosed with this test alone. The results need to be confirmed with other tests or procedures.


There are no risks with this test.


Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Cytologic study of urine - diagnostic. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:430.

Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Cystoscopy - diagnostic. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:421-423.

Riley RS, McPherson RA. Basic examination of urine. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2017:chap 28.

Smith A, Balar AV, Milowsky MI, Chen RC. Bladder cancer. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JE, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 83.

Review Date: 8/26/2017
Reviewed By: Jennifer Sobol, DO, urologist with the Michigan Institute of Urology, West Bloomfield, MI. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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